“Tink’, look down there,” Pedro whispered. “There he is, skulking behind his scurvy crew.” Although Pedro spoke in the softest hush, somehow his voice was all at once a mixture of excitement, hatred, dread, and regret. Ramón Garcia, the villain Pedro Ramirez had worked for so long to defeat, was now in his trap. Ramón had once been Pedro’s best friend, but over the years he had grown cruel, grasping, and evil, and now he was Pedro’s worst enemy.
Pedro spied on his foe from a hiding place among the rafters beneath the sprawling roof of a worn out waterfront warehouse. The warehouse’s hulking silhouette stood, as it had for the last nine decades, in somber isolation at the farthest end of the farthest wharf. The tar-soaked pilings of the pier beneath the warehouse heaved and creaked as choppy black waves lapped at its timbers; and the full moon cast a glittering path on the black water like silver coins spilling from a pirate’s treasure chest.
“He’s here at last, Tink’,” said Pedro. “Tonight we finish our feud once and for all.” Pedro’s hand wrapped around the hilt of his dagger, and the blade flicked out with the touch of a button. Pedro intently addressed someone named, “Tink’,” but any other eyes would have seen that Pedro Ramirez was alone among the rafters.
Pedro was thirty-eight years old, dark-haired, and almond-skinned. He had been strong and muscular in his youth, and in his years in the Navy Seabees, and in his civilian life doing demolition and construction. But ever since his accident and the hard times that had befallen him, he had grown ample and a little fleshy.
As boys in Colombia, Pedro and his best amigo, Ramón, had roamed the shabby streets and alleyways of their barrio, always laughing, playing pranks on grownups, and having fun committing petty crimes. But when Pedro went home to his family’s shanty, he was quiet and brooding. When his grandmother, his abuela, saw he was so often sad, it made her heart ache. It wasn’t until she thought to give her nieto amazing books to read, that Pedro learned he could find happiness, if only for a while, flying on flights of fancy.
But Pedro was older now. He was too grown up. He was too old to fly.
The roof of the warehouse where Pedro lay hidden was supported with wooden columns like the trunks of ancient trees in some dark, enchanted forest in Never-Never Land. The wooden braces between the columns crisscrossed like tree branches as they strained upward to support the roof that was the forest’s canopy.
Pipes, conduits, and ductwork entwined and hung beneath the rafters like vines in a tropical forest. A maze of rickety catwalks wove through the manmade vines and branches, and concealed a hidden path to Pedro’s hideout, a secret loft nestled in the branches like a child’s treehouse. Crouching on the edge of the loft, camouflaged by raven-black shadows in a manufactured jungle, Pedro Ramirez was invisible to his enemy below.
Before Pedro and Ramón could grow out of their adolescence, rapacious eyes and devious minds were already considering recruiting them for more lucrative ventures than petty crime. The boys were smart, and they knew street life well. With just the wrong kind of guidance, they could easily contribute to the wealth, power, and control of any of the cartels vying for dominance in Colombia. Foreseeing the danger, Pedro’s and Ramón’s parents sacrificed most of their meager savings to emigrate north to a country that was safer for their children.
But the children’s parents knew “safety” was a relative term. The outlaws that terrorized the streets of Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali were part of a network that stretched throughout the Americas. Pedro and Ramón were safe for a while in a poor, godforsaken neighborhood in the southern Estados Unidos. But their parents knew their children’s safety was only temporary. Rapacious eyes and devious minds were always on the lookout for smart, strong, street-savvy boys who could be recruited into a lucrative business that would never end. It was only a matter of time.
Pedro’s and Ramón’s parents crossed themselves, lit votive candles, and prayed to the Saints for their children’s deliverance.
The warehouse was dark. Pedro had sabotaged most of the building’s work lamps so that only a few fixtures cast pools of light on the worn warehouse floor. Pedro’s foe stepped into a luminous pool and peered up into the gloom above.
Ramón Garcia’s custom-made shoes were soft red Italian leather; his finely tailored suit was creamy tan; and his hand-made silk shirt was royal blue with white trim. He wore a camel hair long coat that draped over his shoulders like a cape, and a wide-brimmed hat with rolled edges and a domed crown. The colors of his suit, coat, and hat matched perfectly.
The brilliant light of a solitary work lamp painted long black shadows on Garcia’s tan suit. And all that could be seen of his face beneath his wide hat brim was the glitter of a thick gold hoop that pierced his left ear.
When Ramón and Pedro were young boys in Bogota, Colombia, they ran the beggar’s hustle on the wealthy clientele entering and exiting the city’s finest hotels. One day, while Ramón was pleading pitifully to the hotel’s guests for a few spare pesos to help his hungry brothers and sisters and their poor, sick mamá, Ramón was struck dumb in the middle of his patter when he came face to face with an unspeakably affluent man wearing the most luxurious coat the young boy had ever seen.
Ramón was transfixed by the vision of wealth he saw. The patron’s long coat was the most elegant garment Ramón had ever seen a man wear; more so than even the blessed liturgical robes of the priests and cardinals. Lost in wonder, Ramón innocently reached out his hand merely to touch the hem of the coat. But just then, the affluent man’s bodyguard darted forward, reached down, struck the beggar boy upside his head, cutting his ear, and brutally driving him away. Then the patron and his entourage swept past the injured boy without missing a step, or giving the whimpering child a second thought.
Pedro rushed to his friend’s side, and helped the boy limp away to safety. But Ramón Garcia never forgot that day, or how for the first time in his young life he had so passionately wanted something, or how humiliated and angry he was when the object of his desire was so brutally and casually taken away.
“Someday, mi amigo,” Ramón said to Pedro, who was doing his best to stem the bleeding from behind Ramón’s left ear, “I’ll have whatever I want, whatever I desire—the best things, the most beautiful things, the most envied things—and I won’t let anyone take them away from me!”